Next season, the general consensus is that Carolina will have a better offense and a worse defense. On offense, we lose Marcus Lattimore, T.J. Johnson, and Justice Cunningham. However, we get a healthy Connor Shaw (who never played healthy this season) or a more seasoned Dylan Thompson or Brendan Nosovitch at QB; Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds at tailback, with Shon Carson (and potentially David Williams) as a change of pace back; an overall deeper, more experienced offensive line; and, granting that Ace Sanders and Bruce Ellington are on the roster next year and that Shaq Roland learns his routes, a better receiving corps. Rory Anderson and Jerrell Adams will continue to form a talented TE tandem. On defense, the line should again we excellent, led by a defense POY candidate Jadeveon Clowney, and while we lose some talented players in the secondary, it seems that we have the depth to make the transition. Linebacker, though, is a huge question mark. A combination of Cedrick Cooper, who the staff is high on but who has had no meaningful playing time, and incoming freshman Larenz Bryant seems likely. Bryant has All-SEC written all over him and currently ranks as the 51st best prospect in the country at 247 Sports, but he won't be granted the benefit of waiting in the wings while he develops his body and adjusts to the college game. The position is a weakness for Carolina in 2013, and we'll have to hope that other positions will compensate for it, although it's certainly possible that will be the case with Clowney lining up for what's likely to be a thoroughly dominant season.
Where does all of that leave us against our 2013 opponents? Let's take a closer look at each game, rating them by difficulty from 12 (easiest) to 1 (hardest). Today, we'll look at 12-7, with 6-1 coming soon.
12. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Carolina finally welcomes Coastal to Wiliams-Brice Stadium. Sounds more fun to me than another slog against Wofford.
This game is intriguing because it will give us a glimpse of Kentucky under Mark Stoops, but this team has been awful the past two years and, if you can believe it, actually had a relatively experienced, senior-laden team in 2012. This game won't be close unless Carolina is much worse than expected or commits numerous turnovers.
10. at Arkansas Razorbacks
This game should be a more amped-up version of the Kentucky game. The Hogs will have a high-profile new coach on the sidelines in Bret Bielema, but they weren't good in 2012 and lose numerous key players. This program is basically starting over under Bielema, who runs a much different system than his predecessors. They may succeed eventually, but probably not for a couple of seasons. Hogs fans will need to exercise patience.
9. at Central Florida Golden Knights
This is an intriguing game because it's in Orlando. We've never played at UCF before, and they'll be pumped to net a home win over a high-profile SEC squad. This team was 9-4 and lost the CUSA title game to Tulsa; it heads to the Big East next year, whatever that means at this point. This has obviously been one of the better CUSA programs in recent years, but if you're worried about this game, you need to remember that Mizzou went in and beat them at home last year. Unless we take significant steps back next season (i.e., a return to pre-2009 levels), we should win this game without too much trouble. The Knights lose quite a bit of talent from a senior-laden squad, by the way.
Vandy has had a thoroughly respectable 2012 and looks to be headed definitively in the right direction. However, the 'Dores lose Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy to graduation, and they may lose Jordan Matthews to early defection to the NFL. They also lose quite a bit of defense talent. 2013 may be a brief step back for the 'Dores. They've recruited well under James Franklin, but "well" is relative here, and they haven't done it going back far enough to have the depth needed to overcome some of these losses. This should be a win in Williams-Brice.
FEI ratings show that this team was much worse than its record indicated. The Bulldogs went 8-4 and were highly ranked at one point, but their best wins were against Tennessee and Arkansas and they suffered some humiliating losses down the stretch when forced to take on better competition. Next year, they lose basically their entire secondary, including Jonathan Banks, one of the country's best corners. They also lose more or less all their receiving talent. The good news is that they return a senior QB (Tyler Russell) and an experienced offensive line. Sounds like they'll be about the same as they were a year ago. Could be interesting, but should be a win.